Eco Mom Series #4: Use non toxic products

Concern for the products that enter our bodies through our mouths is pretty straightforward. No one in his or her right mind would willingly drink a bottle of chlorine or munch a handful of lead. Indeed, humans and animals alike can very easily be poisoned and or affected in a multitude of ways if we ingest something toxic to our system. However, we are often in denial of the fact that products that touch our skin or that create vapors can be just as toxic.

Indeed it is commonplace for our society to overlook the fact that human skin is a living organ, which makes what we put on or next to our skin seriously important. Somehow, we think that our skin acts as a barrier, when in fact it can absorb toxins and environmental irritants just as easily as our digestive system. And, products that are absorbed through our skin can be especially dangerous because they go straight into our blood stream. At the least, toxins ingested through the mouth if they dont kill us first have the opportunity to be cleaned out of our system through the digestive process. This is why alcoholics get cirrhosis of the liver. The body works so hard at clearing the alcohol out of their bodies’ that it eventually cant keep up.

Similarly, the lung is a working organ and the only way for humans to get oxygen into our blood stream. Every time we inhale a chemical irritant we damage our lungs. Enough damage and the lungs start to lose their ability to repair themselves. Furthermore airborne irritants and toxins can aggravate the lungs for folks who already have breathing problems, such as asthma, even worse they can induce asthma in folks who were previously not at risk. Smoking may be the most common cause of lung cancer but it is not the only cause.

According to research collected by the Eco-Mom Alliance over 150 toxic chemicals are common to the average household. What is really bad news, is that many of these chemicals have been connected to increased incidence of asthma, allergies, cancers, and behavioral disorders.

Chemicals to avoid (more info at the Environmental Working Group):

  • Triclosan – antibacterial agent in soap. Reacts with chlorine to create chloroform a known carcinogen and it is showing up in water sources, humans and animals in unprecedented levels.
  • BPA – Is found in hard clear plastics, such as baby bottles, old Nalgene bottles, your Cuisinart food processor and more. BPA is more likely to leach when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods.
  • Fragrance (pththaltes) this includes perfumes, but also extends to baby lotions and all sorts of bath and body products.
  • Oxybenzone – chemical blocker in sunscreen is a photo carcinogen itself, as well as, highly allergic to certain people. And, in Sweden they have recommended that at the least it should never be used on children under the age of two, because they dont have adequate enzymes to eliminate in from their system.
  • PBDE and other fire retardants Bad, bad, bad. Bad for you, bad for me, bad for baby, bad for fish, bad for everyone.
  • Lead We’ve known about lead poisoning for eons. Why is this still a problem?
  • Chlorine is a lung irritant and also toxic to aquatic systems

Non-toxic replacements:

  • Antibacterial soaps and wipes: warm water and hand soap; alcohol, thyme or tea tree oil based wipes. I am very fond of these non-toxic wipes by CleanWell. Be cautious with alcohol gels and wipes around toddlers and pre-school age kids – the concentration of alcohol can be toxic.
  • Buy glass or BPA free baby bottles & sippy cups; glass food storage containers and the like.
  • For sunscreen look for physical blockers (like Zinc) versus chemical blockers. Checkout how your favorite sunscreen (or body product) rates at the Skin Dip Cosmetic Database.
  • Filter tap water to reduce exposure to lead, chlorine and other water contaminates (most filters cannot remove Fluoride).
  • Cook with stainless steel pans and a little healthy olive or canola oil or use a seasoned cast iron skillet.
  • Use green cleaners, but watch out for preservatives (which can still be skin and lung irritants.
  • Eat your omega 3 fats and fish that are low in mercury; breastfeed your baby!
  • Use a sprig of pine; baking soda in the fridge or freezer; orange rind or lemon in your garbage disposal; bake a fresh pie or cookies; or a soy or beeswax candle to freshen your air!
  • Make your own non-toxic cleaners with baking soda, vinegar, borax and more!

Also, don’t immediately trust a product because it calls itself GREEN. For example, Clorox Green Works, which has received lots of positive reviews contains preservatives that are potentially toxic to aquatic life and are most definitely potential skin and lung irritants. Specifically in question is the Kathalon biocide preservative and isothiazol. I have not yet fully researched these components and the claims against them; however, in the meantime if you have breathing problems or other chemical sensitivities I would steer clear of the Clorox Green Works line.

***Update***

When I posted this earlier today I forgot to mention two very important messages from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice:

  1. The Disney Go Green Campaign: Disney is participating in Florida’s Green Building program and they have committed to using non-toxic cleaning products in their zoos/animal enclosures. However, they still use over 80 highly toxic cleaners in areas where children play, bathe and sleep! Please join the campaign to ask Disney to Go Green! Follow this link to take action!
  2. The Non Toxic Home Cleaning Guide (down loadable PDF)

EcoMom Series #3.3 Shop Organic

We often associate the word organic with food products, but it can also be used to reference clothing, beauty care products and more. The key to reading labels, is understanding that organic food products (and claims) are regulated by the FDA. Other organic claims are not regulated; so, when buying anything organic that does not sport the USDA organic seal, make sure that you know and trust your supplier. Also check the ingredient list (if available) and see how many truly organic ingredients have been included.

There are many reasons to buy organic, the first and foremost being your families health (who wants to ingest chemicals, especially those that are known carcinogens or worse). Yet another reason to buy organic is the health of the planet. Pesticides can pollute soil and ground water, as well as, damage local flora and fauna. Genetically modified plants (GMO) can cross pollinate with non-GMO plants and also interfere with the development of other flora and fauna.

Many folks think that organic plants and foods are more expensive to grow and produce. In some ways this is true as it is difficult to mass produce or skimp on an organic product. However, keep in mind that although a yard of pesticide intensive organic cotton may be cheaper to produce up front than a yard of organic cotton the opportunity cost and ultimately the real cost of the pesticide intensive cotton will likely be much higher.

Some plants tend to require more pesticides than others and so are more pesticide intensive. Cotton and strawberries are two of my favorite examples. The cultivation of cotton is estimated to account for 25% of total pesticide use world wide and in the US alone, five of the most common cotton pesticides are known carcinogens. If you want to put your money where it counts do your best to encourage companies to use and support organic cotton!

Strawberries are believed to be one of the most pesticide intensive crops in the state of California and one of the most common pesticides used on strawberries (to kill soil borne disease) is Methyl bromide, which can be inhaled and according to the EPA is an acute toxin (or deadly chemical). Other pesticides used on strawberries are absorbed into the fruit, which is mostly water thus making it so that you cant just wash the strawberry off. This is evidenced by recent tests in which it was found that 90% of strawberries sold contained 36 different pesticides!

According to the Green Guide the following foods are organic must buys as they consistently show the highest levels of toxic (and or illegal) pesticide residues:

  • strawberries
  • rice
  • grains
  • milk
  • corn
  • bananas
  • green beans
  • apples
  • peaches/nectarines
  • grapes/raisins

Another point to keep in mind if you choose NOT to buy organic, is to only buy conventional produce that was grown in the US or Canada. Many South American countries from whom we import food have more lax standards and regulations when it comes to pesticide use. And, although they supposedly do not use certain banned pesticides on foods grown for sale in the US, random test  on various foods, such as bananas and grapes, show otherwise!

And, a common myth of organic food is that it goes bad more quickly or that it is naturally damaged. This is just not true. If you buy organic produce that goes bad quickly, it simply means that it was on the shelf (or in storage) for too long before the store put it out for you to buy. In fact fresh picked organic produce often lasts longer than conventional produce, precisely because it usually travels a shorter distance from farm to table. And, most organic food ripens on the plant and is thus not treated with gas to encourage ripening. This is why your slightly green organic bananas often taste ripe, when the same green conventional banana would still taste unripe.

In addition, when buying locally grown produce, dont automatically pass it up simply because it does not carry an organic label. Many smaller farmers may choose not to use pesticides, but they dont pay for certification. Or in the case, for example, of an apple orchard, they may spray once in the spring before the fruit forms, but not again, this helps protect their fruit, but it is unlikely any residue will show up in or on your fruit.

One more reason to support organic, is that many organic farmers understand the interconnectedness of life and so they not only dont use pesticides, but they have other farming practices that also work to protect life on earth rather than defeat, tame or damage it. One of the best stories Ive heard of late was from a friend who is an organic farmer in Sebastopol, CA.

Paul has a friend who raises cattle and chickens, both free range, grass fed. He starts his cows out on a pasture until the grass is short. He then moves the cows to the next pasture, while leaving the old pasture to fallow (cow dung and all) for about a week (the time it takes fly eggs to hatch and grow into larvae). He then moves his chickens into the pasture. They scratch through the cow dung to eat some nice protein filled larvae, poop on the grass (chicken poo is an awesome fertilizer) and they eat a little grass (calcium, omega 3s and more). After he moves the chickens on to the next pasture the grass grows thick, green and tall making it perfect for the next round of cattle grazing. No pesticides, added fertilizers or feeds involved. Just mother nature and human cultivation working in harmony!